Tuesday, 30 June 2009

Climbing The Mountain

We started the year needing to film four butterfly species to complete our high definition coverage (look out for what should be a stunning new DVD later in the year). These species were High Brown Fritillary, Large Heath, Scotch Argus and Mountain Ringlet. Thanks to our good friend Neil Hulme (whose account of the trip you can now read across on the webzine) we recently had a fantastic time filming HBFs on Dartmoor. And last weekend, both Large Heath and Mountain Ringlet were bagged during an equally successful foray to Cumbria. Ah it is satisfying when a plan comes together!

Steve Clarke, Chairman of the Cumbria branch of Butterfly Conservation, was kind enough to direct us to prime sites for both the target species. By far the most arduous was Mountain Ringlet. Several healthy colonies exist in the hills above Honister Pass. But you have to be there: a) during the only two weeks in the year when the adults are flying; b) when the sun is shining; c) but not shining too much; and d) when it is not too windy. Fortune was on our side. After a near vertical ascent of almost 1,000 ft we were rewarded with superb views of numerous little brown butterflies, patrolling determinedly across the moor.

The next day Large Heath proved to be fairly straightforward at a traditional site for this species in the south of the Lake District.

Now only Scotch Brown Argus remains...

Monday, 22 June 2009

Changing of the guard

The wagtail nest is continuing to prove a distraction. No babies yet. We've set the webcam to automatically catch any action. Here is our first clip:


Tuesday, 16 June 2009

Productivity plummets

We're all very excited as we're expecting! We've had rats with wings Feral Pigeons trying to nest between the shutter and the windowbox for weeks and weeks. They made a loose collection of crisp packets and McDonalds wrappers and did a great deal of cooing/having sex. The first inkling I had that they were remotely successful was when I found my car with egg all over it one day. They seem to be trying again though.

A few years ago we had Pied Wagtails nest in the windowbox, so I thoughtfully supplied an open-fronted nest box and waterbowl. They chose to ignore these homely additions for a while, but last week - success! I spied a wee tail poking out of the box. You can see their new home just underneath the alarm box. We spent many hours fiddling about rigging up the Heath-Robinson technology. A cheap-and-cheerful webcam was carefully swaddled in clingfilm and tape, a hole drilled in the nearest windowframe, and much computer jiggerypokery was done.
Here we have the close-up. You can just see the webcam poking out of the top of the wrought-iron, and the wag-tail poking out of the box. Hoorah. The bonus is that you can see the pigeons in the background from this angle - giving two nests for the price of one. Wonderful webmaster Dave Dunford did his magic webthing and we now have the image updating here.

The wagtails are completely devoted, with both parents incubating (the female seems to always do the nightshift). The pigeons badly need to go to parenting classes. I suspect they're very inexperienced - disappearing for hours and hours at a time. Anyway - the whole office is obsessing about the nests, and a great deal too much time is being spent watching wags rather than working. We are hoping for babies sometime next week...

Sunday, 14 June 2009

Another Green Lep

I'm seriously considering changing the title of this blog. You'll see why shortly. It's been a VERY busy week at BirdGuides London branch. The highlight (by some margin) was an outing to Martin Down in Wiltshire with the good people of the Bumblebee Conservation Trust. They've recruited a new field officer, and Ben Darvill was on scene to do some training. We tagged along in the hope of learning something.

There are 23(ish) species of bumbles in the UK. Some of them are easy to see, but many of them are horribly rare and UKBAP listed. With the help of Ben we found and filmed two of them on this outing. The rather lovely Bombus humilis (a ginger crew-cut bee) and the delightful Bombus ruderarius (a black, red-tailed bee and extremely tricky to separate from the common Bombus lapidarius). Both are carder bees (ie they sort of knit a surface nest out of moss rather than occupying a burrow like most commoner bumbles). I can't wait to produce an ID guide to bumbles - I get the impression lots of people would like to learn more about them.

Back to the blog-post title then. On my way to work on Friday I found this enormous male Lime Hawkmoth clinging to a window. I licked my finger and picked him up and brought him to work so that Max could take a pretty photo. (Not all moths will let you do this - but hawkmoths are pretty tolerant). So for your delectation, the fourth green lep in as many posts:

Monday, 8 June 2009

Too much citizen science?

So I've just prepped a story for the webzine about the RSPB's new Make Your Nature Count survey. I published it with very mixed feelings. The RSPB is a fine institution, and do many worthy things. Over a million people (including me) see fit to part with their cash to support their good works. So why am I having a whine? Well - in my opinion with this particular survey they're treading on the toes of my good friends at the BTO.

The BTO runs a perfectly good year-round Garden Birdwatch survey. It has the great merit of being scientifically rigourous, and has recorded all sorts of wildlife for years and years. OK - so the RSPB has the clout to get several minutes airing on the Today programme, but why not use that to implore people to help the BTO out? Surely the RSPB doesn't see itself in competition with the BTO? By running its own survey, what does the RSPB hope to achieve? In my more cynical moments I'd say this was a shameless PR exercise off the back of SpringWatch, which will use a great deal of membership money that would have been better spent on habitat. I'm interested in your thoughts about this. Please post your comments.On a lighter note I spent a very merry weekend butterflying. Marsh and Small Pearl-bordered Fritillaries went very well - but the highlight for me was this very gorgeous Forester moth. Very twinkly.

Friday, 5 June 2009

Green Hairstreaks

Five species of Hairstreak butterflies can be seen in Britain. Usefully they all have colours in their names, so they are relatively easy to remember: Brown, Purple, White-letter, Black and Green. Last year we successfully filmed the first four Hairstreaks, but managed only a few brief shots of the fifth. So we were particularly delighted to catch up recently with this gentleman and his friends.

Green Hairstreaks are annoyingly difficult to see well... let alone photograph. The general Hairstreak philosophy is to is perch invisibly pretending to be a leaf high up in a dense hawthorn, blackthorn or (in the case of Purple Hairstreak) oak trees. Being predominantly green and brown, Green Hairstreaks are rather good at this.

From time to time, generally when you are looking the other way, they may take off for a brief sortie. If you are lucky, they will be noticed by a neighboring male and a dogfight will ensue. Tracking the spiraling flight of the combatants and hopefully following one of them back to its perch may – with patience and good fortune – allow you to creep up and shoot the beast.

Anyway, many thanks to Lee Evans for guiding us to these particular Green Hairstreaks, rather late in their flight season. Although best known as a birder, Lee is also a keen lepidopterist. His directions were customarily exact: we turned up at the specified bush in Bedfordshire and there were the butterflies.